This Day in History – March 19th, 1895


Cinématographe Lumière at the Institut Lumière, France.

A cinematograph is a motion picture film camera, which also serves as a film projector and printer. The device was first invented and patented as the “Cinématographe Léon Bouly” by French inventor Léon Bouly on February 12th, 1892. Bouly coined the term “cinematograph”, from the Greek for “writing in movement”. Due to a lack of money, Bouly was unable to develop his ideas properly and maintain his patent fees, so he sold his rights to the device and its name to Auguste and Louis Lumière, more commonly known as the Lumière Brothers. On March 19th, 1895, they applied the name to a device that was largely their own creation.

The Lumières held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895. Their first public screening of films at which admission was charged was held on December 28th, 1895, at Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris.

The Lumière Brothers were not the only ones to claim the title of the first cinematographers. The scientific chronophotography devices developed by Eadweard Muybridge, Étienne-Jules Marey and Ottomar Anschütz in the 1880s were able to produce moving photographs, as was William Friese-Greene‘s ‘chronophotographic’ system, demonstrated in 1890, and Thomas Edison‘s Kinetoscope (developed by W K-L Dickson), premiered in 1891.

The Lumière Brothers

The Lumière Brothers

Since 1892, the projected drawings of Émile Reynaud‘s Théâtre Optique were attracting Paris crowds to the Museé Grevin. Louis Le Prince and Claude Mechant had been shooting moving picture sequences on paper film as soon as 1888, but had never performed a public demonstration. Polish inventor, Kazimierz Prószyński had built his camera and projecting device, called Pleograph, in 1894. Max and Emil Skladanowsky, inventors of the Bioscop, had offered projected moving images to a paying public one month earlier (November 1st, 1895, in Berlin). Nevertheless, film historians consider the Grand Café screening to be the true birth of the cinema as a commercial medium, because the Skladanowsky brothers’ screening used an extremely impractical dual system motion picture projector that was immediately supplanted by the Lumiere cinematographe.

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